If I thought I was paranoid before reading “Rite of Passage”, I was wrong. I think I see everything in a different light now – a far more sinister light.
Have you ever wondered about the chain of events that could be set in action if, in the presence of something very evil, you accidentally stepped on a loose shingle on the roof? I never had.. Now, thanks to John Passarella’s new “Supernatural” novel “Rite of Passage“, I know what will happen. You will slip, fall, and doing so, cause a series of accidents that results in three people lying broken and dead on someone’s front sidewalk.
That, readers, is how “Rite of Passage” opens and it doesn’t let up. Welcome to Laurel Hill, New Jersey; quite possibly the worst vacation destination in the world. Sam and Dean are drawn to the town when a series of “unlucky” accidents begin to add up to a supernatural hunt.
The tension in this “Supernatural” novel is palpable. I found it difficult to put down even though I was quite disturbed by some of the imagery. This is not PG 13 TV show, folks. In fact, as Passarella says, “I was told early on by the show liaison that they wanted the book authors to write the stuff they couldn’t show on TV.”
There are some extremely violent scenes in the book and they’re well-written. There are accidents I would rather not ever imagine having to experience; “Rite of Passage” is filled with carnage and bloodshed. The best thing is that it isn’t over-done. It fits with the story; it fits with the hunt the Winchesters have stumbled upon. Let’s face it, hunting isn’t a pretty business and whether we see it or not on TV we all know that Hunters kill supernatural creatures.
Sam and Dean Winchester, so well-known and loved by fans, won’t disappoint in this novel. The brotherly banter is in full swing in spite of the extra burden Sam carries. Remember; this story fits in the timeline before “How To Win Friends and Influence Monsters“, (Se 07, Ep 09); so Lucifer is in heavy rotation on Sam’s playlist. It’s subtle – but Passarella captures the burden Sam is dealing with throughout the novel until it finally becomes a very real threat. While Dean snaps his one-liners the decay of his will to hunt is beginning to show.
I was able to get some questions to John Passarella and he provided a bit more insight into the process behind writing a tie-in novel.
DNM: How are the details of the novel chosen when you’re working on a series like “Supernatural”. How is the title chosen – and the time frame to place it between two episodes. Also – are you allowed to use any living character from the show?
PASSARELLA: From the moment I’m first approached about submitting pitches, one of my editors will give me some parameters. For both of my Supernatural novels, I was told to use the monster-of-the-week type of format, so basically a standalone story that doesn’t affect the season-long arc. Part of the reason for this is that the season-arc is enfolding while I’m pitching, outlining and writing. I started the pitching process around the time episode eight or nine of season seven was airing and finished the first draft of Rite of Passage on March 1, long before the season wrapped up. So, the season-arc has been a moving target during the writing process for both my Supernatural novels. Also, I was told not to use Castiel (his fate was unknown at the time) or the angels/demon conflict, and not to use the Leviathan, other than in passing and to set up Sam’s and Dean’s mindset with regard to that ongoing threat.
From those guidelines, I come up with the monster (after I find something the show hasn’t used in seven seasons) and the plot. I outline the novel and submit that, then make adjustments based on feedback from my editors and the show liaison. Once those hurdles are cleared, I put my nose to the grindstone for two months of intensive writing. Sometimes the title comes to you right away. For this book I had several titles that my editors and I bounced around before settling on Rite of Passage. For both novels, I was told to make the story as current as possible. Since both seasons were mid-stream, I pushed it as far into the season as possible. However, with Rite of Passage, I was told to set it before “How To Win Friends And Influence Monsters.”
DNM: Because the main characters are so well-known and loved has it been at all daunting or challenging to write them?
PASSARELLA: The primary challenges are capturing their voices so that readers will read the dialogue and imagine Sam or Dean or Bobby saying those lines. I gather pages of script dialogue for each character from episodes leading up to the point where my story takes place and refer to that often. Next, based upon where we are in the time line when the book takes place, I look at the mental and emotional states of the characters. How were they feeling and acting and reacting at that point in the show. That’s another reason why current script dialogue is important.
I don’t rehash all of their back stories, but will give nods toward things that are relevant to a moment, such as Dean’s fear of flying when the Winchesters are interviewing witnesses about a skydiving accident. And through all of that, the goal is for these characters to act the way viewers/readers expect them to react, to avoid false notes which might take the reader out of the story.
DNM: There are a couple of really terrific fight scenes in “Rite of Passage”. Do you visualize the scene before your write it?
PASSARELLA: Thank you. I often tell my wife as I walk around the house with a thousand-yard-stare on my face that I’m working on the choreography of a fight scene. It’s easy to know where or how I want the fight to end, but I need to visualize who does what before I write it. I imagine the setting, the lighting (or lack thereof) and what props would be handy. Sometimes, when inspiration strikes during the writing process, I’ll revise that choreography on the fly.
DNM: At one point in the novel, hunter Dean Winchester say “there’s always another one. No matter what we do…” It seems like that kind of sums up the life of these two characters. How do you think that fits with your version of the hunters?
PASSARELLA: Since I had the benefit of watching Bobby talking to Sam and Dean in “How To Win Friends…”, I had a good idea where the Winchesters were mentally and emotionally. Bobby’s insight guided how I approached their state of mind in my story, which takes place right before that episode. Dean is starting to feel the pointlessness of an endless struggle that keeps taking them back to the brink. In contrast, Sam takes comfort in the routine of hunting that his been his life for years because it keeps hims focused. It’s an interesting dynamic and reverses their positions from earlier in the series when Dean was the gung-ho hunter and Sam was a reluctant participant.
DNM: “Rite of Passage” is a lot more bloody than many of the “Supernatural” episodes on TV. In particular, this story has a lot of rather gory accidents. Was it at all challenging to come up with those events or was it fun?
PASSARELLA: I was told early on by the show liaison that they wanted the book authors to write the stuff they couldn’t show on TV, both because of the limited budget per episode and the requirements of the censors. When I’m plotting the novel, I try to think of bigger calamities, the grander scale I’m allowed because my story doesn’t need to be filmed. And, unlike the show, where the camera turns away from the violence, I can “show” it on the page.
Supernatural is an extremely violent show if you think about what’s actually happening to some of the characters after the cameras cut away to a shadow on the wall or a splatter of blood. Viewers are left to their own devices as far as how much they want to imagine. In a way, a book is the same. All the images I conjure through my words on the page are as violent and visceral as the reader allows. I know some reasons skipped ahead a paragraph here and there during several of the more gruesome scenes in Night Terror. For me, that’s the equivalent of watching a horror movie and covering your eyes during the most frightful moment or gruesome image. You can still enjoy the story, even if you choose to look away for a moment here and there. I have a background in horror. My own books are supernatural thrillers and I’ve written some violent and gory scenes, and I firmly believe those scenes help build the suspense. When the reader gets a sense of the horrible fate that awaits the protagonist if he or she fails, the nail-biting level increases. At the same time, I don’t always feel the need to describe every last bit of blood, bone and gristle. I don’t write gore for gore’s sake.
DNM: Where did you come across the idea of the “Oni”?
PASSARELLA: The goal is to find a monster that hasn’t been used on the show to date, but it has to be a creature with enough complexity to last as the major threat through an entire 80,000 word novel. I read (probably in one of the Supernatural show guides) that the creatures used in the show have to be google-able, meaning there has to be some existing folklore or mythology about it. You can’t make up a monster out of whole cloth. That means that the Internet is one resource for researching creatures, but I also have several books on folklore in mythology.
Once I find something with potential, I’ll compare what’s described online with what’s mentioned in my research books. I’ll use a mix of mythology and my own interpretation of that written record. What if a particular detail wasn’t meant to be literal? Or what if that other detail or phrase only hinted at something more devious. By adding additional layers to the folklore, it gives the Winchesters more of a mystery to solve before getting at that critical information they need to gank the monster.
DNM: While you were writing this did you have the more tragic events of Season 7 in your mind? The Winchesters lost almost everyone and everything – was that in the back of your mind?
PASSARELLA: Knowing what would happen in “How to Win Friends…” I wanted to have a sense of foreboding in Rite of Passage as well as a bittersweet quality. The tragedy in “How to Win Friends…” was sudden, unexpected and brutal. In Rite of Passage, I wanted Sam and Dean to have a moment of almost-loss, to give them time to reflect on the importance of their relationship with Bobby, to show before it’s too late, that they don’t take that relationship for granted. To contrast and highlight that support system between the hunters, we see other family dynamics in the book that are tragically dysfunctional, some murderously so.
DNM: You interact a lot with fans of your writing online. It hasn’t always been easy for authors to reach out to their readers and get instant feedback. Does that feedback influence what you write? Is it rewarding?
PASSARELLA: Years ago, to interact with an author, one have had to write a letter, put it in an envelope, take it to the post office and mail it to a publisher and hope that the author would somehow, someday read it and maybe respond. And I can’t recall any instances where that communication was encouraged in any way. With email and social media, authors have the opportunity to interact with readers during the writing process, before the book is released and immediately after publication.
Some of my Twitter followers helped me keep going late into the night (fresh coffee at 4am nights) to meet my daily word count for Rite of Passage. Early on, readers told me what they liked or didn’t like in the previous Supernatural novels. I checked online reviews as well. Having written Buffy and Angel tie-in novels, I wasn’t going in completely blind. When readers settle down with a tie-in book, they don’t want false character notes in word or action, they want to be able to imagine book scenes playing out on the TV show. The characters should speak and behave as they do on the show. And they want an engaging story. I’ve been fortunate in that the majority of readers (big fans of the show, naturally) have had good things to say about Night Terror and, so far, Rite of Passage. And that positive reinforcement can lift you up when you’re feeling worn down by the grind of writing day after day without a single day off.
Then, when the book is finally out there, it’s great to have those readers support it, making me feel as if all the work was worthwhile. I’ve had tweets and emails from fans that have made me smile and some that have made my day. I hope I can continue to write books that give them a reason to write me.